21st Century Lincoln Center — More Lincoln Center than Lincoln Center

Event: Best in Show: A Conversation with the Designers of 21st Century Lincoln Center
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.04.11
Speakers: Elizabeth Diller — Principal, Diller Scofidio + Renfro; Sylvia Smith, FAIA, LEED AP — Principal, FXFOWLE Architects; Larry Gutterman, AIA, LEED AP — Associate Partner, Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners; Billie Tsien, AIA — Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects; Signe Nielsen, Hon. AIANY, FASLA — Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects
Organizer: Center for Architecture
Sponsors: Benefactor: Vanguard Construction & Development Co.; Patron: Diller Scofidio + Renfro; FXFOWLE Architects; Trespa; Sponsors: Arup; Buro Happold; Ennead Architects; F.J. Sciame Construction Co.; Gensler; Halcrow Yolles; Ibex Construction; Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll & Bertolotti; Jaros, Baum & Bolles; Knoll/Lane Office; Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; Mancini Duffy; MechoShade Systems, Inc.; New York University; Robert A.M. Stern Architects; Roger Ferris + Partners; Rudin Management Company, Inc.; Sage and Coombe Architects; Stalco Construction, Inc.; Structure Tone Inc.; Studio Daniel Libeskind; STUDIOS Architecture; Swanke Hayden Connell Architects; Syska Hennessy Group; Turner Construction Company; Weidlinger Associates, Inc.

Lincoln Center Public Spaces, NY, NY, by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, FXFOWLE Architects, and Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners.

Photo by Iwan Baan

Frank Gehry, FAIA, cautioned Elizabeth Diller about accepting the project to rejuvenate the public spaces at Lincoln Center. “If we knew then, what we know now,” said Diller, “we probably wouldn’t have.” Despite the challenges, the outcome was exactly what the client wanted — “to make Lincoln Center more Lincoln Center than Lincoln Center.” Nodding in agreement were Diller’s co-panelists from FXFOWLE Architects, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, and Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, who all contributed to the realization of a Lincoln Center for the 21st century.

Diller learned first-hand exactly what George Balanchine, co-founder of the NYC Ballet, meant when he said the only thing the constituents at Lincoln Center have in common is the campus. The 13 disparate cultural entities that occupy the campus did not share a concern for the public spaces and did not see how improving the campus would be good for their individual box offices. It was the responsibility of the design team to convince them of this.

When Lincoln Center was originally built, many felt the mega-block represented elitism, turning its back to the city. To access the plaza, patrons had to traverse a driveway and a series of steps, and more recently, a sidewalk with Jersey barriers (a post 9/11 addition). The design team sought to remedy the situation by burying the roadway under a monumental stair with deeper treads and LED signage embedded in the risers. The stair is flanked by canopied walkways leading to the performance halls. The fountain remains in its original location as the center of attention, but the team lowered the water level to meet the plaza and added a floating rim for sitting and people watching. Water patterns were choreographed to celebrate the exuberance of the cultural campus.

The Hypar Pavilion, which, according to the panel, was a leap of faith on the part of Lincoln Center, serves a dual purpose without consuming much space on campus. A large, parabolic-shaped lawn is the roof of a glass-walled restaurant. According to Sylvia Smith, FAIA, of FXFOWLE, who collaborated with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the Hypar Pavilion “counters the rectilinear shape of the other buildings.”

Nearby, Tod Williams Bille Tsien Architects transformed privately owned public space that acts as a connector from the street to the campus. The atrium contains one of the largest green walls in the city, a box office for ticketing, a place for live and on-screen performances, and plenty of seating. According to Billie Tsien, AIA, it is now “a place to stop by and have a drink before the show, and a place where you can come by when you have no place to be or do.”